For the first time in years, I’m loading up an Animal Crossing video game. I haven’t touched the series since 2012’s New Leaf, and while I never quite settled into the same addiction my friends and colleagues ended up falling into, I understood why so many players fall victim to the charms of Tom Nook and Isabelle. Now, with new game Animal Crossing: New Horizons ready to stir the pot for so many fans and newcomers, I’m writing this review as an outsider looking in but also as someone who appreciates the series for what it brings to the table.
So, while the series has been around for years now, I’ve always been hesitant to play these games. I’m a bread and butter type of person, so I need my combat and exploration in my games. A game series like Animal Crossing has never been my cup of tea but I’ve always been one to check in on the series and second guess my arm’s length approach. I loved the Harvest Moon series on SNES but that is as far as my time with these types of games goes, up until New Leaf on Nintendo 3DS.
Welcome to Adventure Island
Since being revealed at E3 2019, my curiosity has been a series of waves and full of highs and lows. Seeing the latest Animal Crossing Direct, I found myself once again invested, where I finally found myself excited to dive back into a series that has no real end goal in place. In fact, the lack of traditional gameplay is one of my biggest concerns but somehow the charm of the characters and the gameplay loops introduced have me second-guessing myself.
Tom Nook begins by asking you a series of questions before offering you the Tom Nook Package, which essentially drops you on a deserted island, and your future homestead. Over the course of your playthrough, you’ll find yourself tasked with an assortment of things. A big component of New Horizons is crafting. I’ve spent a lot of time crafting Flimsy Axes, Flimsy Fishing Rods, and an assortment of items for Seaport, my slice of heaven.
New Horizons is all about crafting your necessities. Since you wind up on a deserted island with only a few animal neighbours, you’ll need to craft everything in a DIY recipe book. Animal Crossing games have always been slow to start (and I learned that lesson with New Leaf) but New Horizons expands on that promise. With nothing but a tent and some new friends, your character must learn to DIY everything on the island. It’s all about you and your new island.
And you’ll enjoy being able to customize everything on the island. I wasn’t sure how integral crafting would be but literally everything available can be created by you. There are some things, of course, that can only be purchased but most things can be designed by you. And almost every item has a purpose too. Weeds have always been a nuisance, but now you can sell them for Bells or craft them as part of a DIY project. Inventory space is limited, and you’ll notice how quickly spaces fill up but thankfully there’s a way to expand the inventory.
Start from Scratch
Gone are the shops, the museums, and a house to call your own. From the start, you’re limited to a small piece of your new island, and it takes some time to even get off that small piece of land. I spent nearly a full day crafting and selling to Tommy Nook so I could get the museum and Blathers to appear. Blathers provides the recipes for both the shovel and the pole vault, which opens access to other parts of the island. By this point, I was nervous as I felt like I was reaching a plateau in the game and unsure of what I was missing. Oh, and if you’re worried about whether Nook’s Cranny or the Able Sisters not appearing – they do and they are unlockable.
And just like before, time in Animal Crossing games passes using the console’s internal clock, so you can only accomplish a certain number of things per day. I placed Blather’s museum in the perfect spot and thought I’d see him show up right away. It wasn’t until I came back the next day that Tom Nook informed me of our island’s latest arrival. What caught me off-guard was how slow the first few days on the island were and I expected the pace to stay the same throughout, but luckily things pick up once more items become available. I’d also notice that resources do not respawn immediately, so if I ran out of wood, I’d either have to wait or purchase it for more Bells.
Going the Extra Mile
However, before anything can progress in New Horizons, you need to pay Tom Nook back in Nook Miles. This is separate currency from Bells, and serves to purchase clothes, switching hairstyles and so on. Earning Nook Miles is easy, all you need to do is play the game and be consistent! You earn points for collecting insects, crafting tools, breaking them and being social! I enjoyed chasing points across several categories and earning points to redeem new articles of clothing can be exciting.
Major events include celebrating holidays but with nothing coming up until next month, I couldn’t see what Nintendo has in store for that day. However, we do know that there are going to be free events happening once Nintendo decides to reveal when (and what) they are. However, New Horizons is all about the long game and pacing yourself over the course of a year or more.
While I didn’t spend a lot of time exploring multiplayer, I took the chance to check out local co-op which uses a Joy-Con to allow a friend to explore your island with you. Whether you work together or do your own thing is up to you but it’s nice to see the support available. I’d like to revisit this once my island is in full swing. If that isn’t enough, you can also visit other players and explore their islands. In order to do that, however, you need to be physically close to them
Animal Crossing: New Horizons launches at the perfect time and is the perfect game for the Nintendo Switch. In a world currently full of anxiety and uncertainty, what New Horizons offers is an excellent reprieve from our worldly stress. I find myself less worried about the issues around me and more invested in making Seaport the best place to live for its inhabitants. Aside from the slow start, once things fall into place and click, New Horizons shifts into the definitive experience for the series and easily one of the most engaging games the series has to offer. I can’t stop smiling and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a ray of sunshine on a rainy day.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]